Friday, December 18, 2015
Ron Seidel

Many people are familiar with the Galapagos finches, and the evolutionary theory that differences in beak size led to the groups’ diversification. It’s one of the most popularly cited examples of a process known as adaptive radiation. Now, the frequency of that evolutionary process in nature is being challenged by a group of KU Biodiversity Institute graduate research students.

In a paper to be published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution in January, the students argue why many instances of evolution previously believed to be caused by adaptive radiations are not truly “adaptive” but rather other types of evolutionary radiation altogether, or a blend of several forms.

“We read a lot of papers where something interesting biologically was going on, but it was being mischaracterized as adaptive, when truly there were other processes that were being ignored,” said graduate student Kaylee Herzog, one of the seven students who coauthored the paper.

Evolutionary radiation consists of several ways in which speciation, or the creation of new species from a single common ancestor, occurs. In early studies of evolutionary radiation, adaptive radiation was once thought to be the only way speciation could take place. This theory was proven false, after it became clear that many causes of radiation exist, oftentimes many in the same instance.

The group believes that geographic radiation in the finches could be the actual cause for changes in certain cases, or that both adaptive and geographic radiation play a role in some speciation. Geographic radiation is caused by two groups of the same species being physically separated and exposed to different environments. The high diversity of Galapagos finches is only one of several examples that the students say could be falsely attributed to adaptive radiation.

Graduate student Marianna Simoes says the paper’s concept was first initiated two years ago, when the graduate students began meeting for a macroevolutionary biology course at the University of Kansas. During the course, the students discussed types of radiation such as adaptive, exaptive, geographic, and climatic. While studying these processes, the group decided to make the occurrence of adaptive radiation the focus of their discussion group which followed the course the next semester.

In the discussion group, the students began to dig deeper into inconsistencies they found in the labeling of the processes of evolutionary radiation. The students found instances of possible false attributions to adaptive radiation in each of their specific fields of research, and brought these studies back to the group for discussion. They then teased out what they believe to be the true causes of speciation in these groups. While writing the paper, the students also named the process of pseudoradiation. This is the first time the process, which is related to but distinct from evolutionary radiation, have been summarized in one paper.

“We’ve found that adaptive radiation is not really the trigger for all of these speciations, so that’s where the rest of the different kinds of radiation come in,” graduate student Laura Breitkreuz said.

While the students maintain that adaptive radiation plays a big role in evolutionary radiation, they hope the paper will help point out the importance of recognizing other triggers that often occur.

Invertebrate Paleontology
Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Back in April, University of New Mexico Ph.D. candidate (and KU alum) Grey Gustafson  was on the hunt for a particular species of whirligig beetle in Alabama’s Conecuh National Forest, but something else caught his eye. As it turns out, this beetle is the first unequivocally new species of the whirligig family (Gyrinidae) to be described in the United States since 1991. Gustafson named it Dineutus shorti after University of Kansas coleopterist Dr. Andrew E. Z. Short.

Read more about Gustafson's discovery:

Monday, November 23, 2015

LAWRENCE — During upheaval in Libya in 2013, a window of opportunity opened for scientists from the University of Kansas to perform research at the Zallah Oasis, a promising site for unearthing fossils from the Oligocene period, roughly 30 million years ago.

From that work, the KU-led team last week published a description of a previously unknown anthropoid primate — a forerunner of today’s monkeys, apes and humans — in the Journal of Human Evolution. They’ve dubbed their new find Apidium zuetina.

Significantly, it’s the first example of Apidium to be found outside of Egypt.

“Apidium is interesting because it was the first early anthropoid primate ever to be found and described, in 1908,” said K. Christopher Beard, Distinguished Foundation Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and senior curator with KU’s Biodiversity Institute, who headed the research. “The oldest known Apidium fossils are about 31 million years old, while the youngest are 29 million. Before our discovery in Libya, only three species of Apidium were ever recovered in Egypt. People had come up with the idea that these primates had evolved locally in Egypt.”

Beard said evidence that Apidium had dispersed across North Africa was the key facet of the find. He believes shifting climatic and environmental conditions shaped the distribution of species of Apidium, which affected their evolution.

“We’ve found evidence that climate change — not warming, but cooling and drying — across the Eocene-Oligocene boundary probably is the root cause in kicking anthropoid evolution into overdrive,” he said. “All of these anthropoids, which were our distant relatives, were living up in the trees — none of them were coming down. When the world became cooler and dryer in this period, what was previously a continuous belt of forest became more fragmented. This created barriers to gene flow and movement of animals from one part of forest to what used to be adjacent forest.”

With a forest broken up, there was an inhibition of gene flow that through time resulted in speciation, or the creation of new species, according to the KU researcher.

“Animals that are sequestered become different species over millions of years,” Beard said. “As the climate oscillates again, you’ve got different species of Apidium. As forests expand and contract, now you’ve got competition between species of Apidium that have never seen each other before. One species outcompetes the other, the other goes extinct, and we think that’s what we’re picking up with this Libyan Apidium, which is related to the youngest and largest species of Apidium known from Egypt.”

Beard said that Apidium zuetina would have been physically similar to modern-day squirrel monkeys from South America, but with smaller brains, and would have dined on fruits, nuts and seeds.

“We know that Apidium was a very active arboreal monkey, a really good leaper,” he said. “We know they actually had fused lower-leg bones just above the ankle joint. That’s really unusual for anthropoid primates, and the only reason for it to happen is because you like to jump a lot, as it stabilized the join between those bones and the ankle.”

The team identified Apidium zuetina through detailed analysis of its teeth.

“All of the fossils we have so far are just teeth, not even jaw bones — but fortunately, the teeth of these anthropoids are so distinct and diagnostic that they function like fingerprints at a crime scene,” Beard said. “Studying details of cusps and crests on teeth, we can determine evolutionary relationships. It might sound like thin evidence, but I suspect even with whole skeletons we’d still be focused on teeth to determine relationships. This is because teeth evolve rapidly in response to shifting diets, while an animal’s skull and skeleton typically evolves more slowly. Fortunately for paleontologists, teeth are well-documented in the fossil record because tooth enamel is the hardest part of a mammal body, durable and easy to fossilize.”

Yet, the researchers chose to name Apidium zuetina not after any of its physical characteristics, but after the Zuetina Oil Company that made the dangerous Libyan fieldwork possible.

“Without their logistical support, we couldn’t have done this work at all,” Beard said. “We did this just after end of the Libyan civil war that led to the overthrow of Gadhafi.”

Beard said the discovery took place during a brief lull in violence in Libya. But the trip to the Zallah Oasis was precarious nonetheless.

“We knew it was risky, but we thought we could go because of our local collaborator, Mustafa Salem, a geology professor at Tripoli University,” he said. “He’s revered as a father figure among Libyan geologists. An oil facility was close to some interesting sites, and after Mustafa contacted a former student who was working there, they provided our team with charter flights to an airstrip near the oil facility. Without that alone, we couldn’t have done our fieldwork — the roads are too dangerous with bandits and the like. They also gave us lodging, food, water and security.”

Beard said armed guards accompanied the team everywhere, manning trucks mounted with antiaircraft guns.

“They never asked for a nickel from us in return,” said the KU researcher. “There was an Islamist attack on a gas facility at the same time near the Algerian-Libyan border, and they killed 30-40 workers. So the security protected us and potentially saved our lives.”

Beard’s research collaborators were Pauline M.C. Coster of KU; Yaowalak Chaimanee and Jean-Jacques Jaeger of the Université de Poitiers in France; and Mustafa Salem of Tripoli University in Libya.

The National Science Foundation supported this work. 

Photos: Above, armed guards accompanied researchers during their dangerous Libyan fieldwork. Below: Researchers analyzed fossil teeth to identify Apidium zuetina as a species new to science. Map: (A) location of Zallah Oasis in Libya’s Sirt Basin and (B) closeup of Zallah Oasis and surrounding area.

Written by Brendan M. Lynch

Vertebrate Paleontology
Thursday, November 5, 2015

Charles MichenerThe University of Kansas mourns the passing of Distinguished Professor & Senior Curator Emeritus Charles D. Michener, aged 97.  Mich passed peacefully at home in Lawrence early on 1 November 2015, surrounded by his family.  Mich was born 22 September 1918 in Pasadena, California and into a family of avid naturalists.  Both of Mich's parents were active birders and members of the Western Bird Banding Association, and encouraged his passion for natural history.  By the age of 10 he had already made detailed notes on the regional flora, and began to shift his remarkable talents to the insects, particularly the bees.  At the age of 14 he wrote to the prominent bee systematist of the day, Theodore Cockerell (himself a former assistant of Alfred Russell Wallace) for advice in identifying species, and later spent a summer at Cockerell's home learning much about bees.  Mich published his first scientific paper at the age of 16, and at least partly based on data he had collected as early as age 12.  

Mich went to the University of California, Berkeley for his B.S. (1939) and Ph.D. (1941), the latter of which culminated in the monograph, "Comparative External Morphology, Phylogeny, and a Classification of the Bees", a work that garnered the A. Cressy Morrison Prize in Natural Sciences in 1942 and established him as the leading authority on bees.  In this work he provided a rigorous phylogenetic framework for understanding the evolution of bees, and a comprehensive classification of the world's fauna as it was then known.  It rightly ushered in the 'Michener Era' of bee study, and has remained strong ever since.  In 1942 Mich became curator at the American Museum of Natural History, assigned to the collection of butterflies and moths, and through this appointment became a resource to a young Paul Ehrlich and Vladimir Nabokov, among others.  During this period he also served in the U.S. Army's Sanitary Corps, working on mosquitoes and chiggers, before returning to his position at the AMNH.  His work on the Lepidoptera culminated in his 1952 monograph on the Saturniidae (a group that includes the famous 'Luna Moth'), which remains to this day the classic and definitive treatment of the family.

In 1948 Mich relocated to the University of Kansas, and remained there.  The move to Kansas afforded him the opportunity to return to his primary interest in bees.  At KU he was able to expand his work into bee biology and behavior, allowing him to more fully explore aspects of pollination biology and the influences on the evolution of their intricate social systems.  This work resulted in expansive treatments of leafcutter bees, and made possible the future development of the 'Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee' as a more efficient managed pollinator of such crops.  He explored the development of insect communication and social systems, developing theories for their evolution and a revised classification of arthropod social groups.  It was this body of work that would later be expanded upon by E.O. Wilson and others during the rise of the field of 'Sociobiology', and for which Mich's 1974 classic, "The Social Behavior of the Bees" remains a primary reference.  Simultaneously, Mich was working on the new quantitative methods in classification, with his colleagues Robert Sokal and Peter Sneath.  The earliest applications of their newly founded, 'Numerical Taxonomy' (or 'phenetics') were on the classification and evolution of osmiine bees, of with Mich was deeply involved at the time.  In April 1965 Mich became the first Kansan elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and this was followed by many other honors, too numerous to enumerate.  Mich received a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 1955 which allowed him and his entire family to spend a year in Brazil working on the South American bee fauna, and a second Guggenheim supported the family for 14 months exploring bees in Africa in 1966 (exploring and collecting their way from South Africa to Uganda!).  A 1957 Fulbright Research Award took the family to Australia for a year, where Mich launched a generation of new bee biologists and later produced a massive monograph of the Australian and South Pacific bee fauna. 

Mich retired in 1989, but remained as active as ever and in 2000 published his magnum opus, "The Bees of the World".  At nearly 1000 pages it covered over 16,000 species and is, quite simply, the single greatest work produced on the subject.  That is until he revised it for an even more grand second edition in 2007.  After the second edition, Mich continued to write papers on bees, work on the bee research collection, correspond and consult with researchers worldwide, host visitors to the bee collection, advise students and colleagues at KU, identify species for pollination and conservation biologists, and bless everyone with his warm generosity.  He continued to visit the KU Biodiversity Institute's entomological collections as recently as mid-October. 

Aside from his numerous academic achievements, Mich was most importantly a genuinely wonderful human being.  Soft-spoken and mild in demeanor, he was generous with his time and expertise, and was always unassuming.  While many who achieve his level of fame become distant or self-absorbed, he was instead the consummate gentleman and had an open door through which one could walk in at any time and say, "Hi Mich, can I ask you a question?"  To which he would always set aside what he was doing, turn with a warm smile, fold his hands characteristically, and listen and converse for as long as one would like, and on any subject.  He treated everyone with the same level of affectionate dignity.  His kind manner was a constant in a world of persistent change, and is missed. 

Everyone at KU mourns his loss, and offer to his family their most heartfelt condolences. 

KU Endowment maintains the “Charles D. Michener Bee Collection Fund (Acct. 32534)”, which supports the continued maintenance, growth, and development of the finest collection of the world’s bee fauna – the result of Mich’s lengthy tenure with KU and his life-long exploration into the diversity and biology of bees. 

A family obituary appeared in the 4 November, Lawrence Journal World.


Friday, October 30, 2015


A research team led by a KU alumnus has identified a new giant raptor, the largest specimen ever found with wing feathers.

Named Dakotaraptor, the fossil from the Hell Creek Formation in South Dakota is thought to be about 17 feet long, making it among the largest raptors in the world.

“This new predatory dinosaur also fills the body size gap between smaller theropods and large tyrannosaurs that lived at this time,” KU Paleontologist and co-author David Burnham said. 

KU alumnus Robert DePalma, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History and lead author of the research, led the expedition to South Dakota where the specimen was found. At the time, he was a graduate student studying with former KU paleontology professor and curator Larry Martin, who died in 2014.

“This Cretaceous period raptor would have been lightly built, and probably just as agile as the vicious smaller theropods, such as the Velociraptor,” DePalma said. He added that the both fossils showed evidence of “quill knobs” where feathers would have been attached to the forearm of the dinosaur.

The specimen also demonstrates that flightlessness evolved several times in this lineage leading to modern birds, he said.

The peer-reviewed research was published Oct. 30 in Paleontological Contributions. In addition to DePalma, Martin and Burnham, co-authors include Peter Larson of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, and Robert Bakker of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The specimen is being researched and curated by DePalma’s research team in Florida, associated with the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History.

Vertebrate Paleontology
Monday, October 19, 2015

Emmanuel Toussaint, postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Andrew Short, has been awarded the 2016 R.J.H. Hintelmann Award, which is presented annually to a young scientist for outstanding achievements in zoological systematics, phylogenetics, faunistics or biogeography. He will travel to the Bavarian State Collection in Munich (Zoologischen Staatssammlung München) in January to present a talk and receive the award. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Richard Williams, who completed his Ph.D. with Town Peterson, in collaboration with Robert Timm and colleagues in Spain, recently published their work on the genetics and distribution of Shope’s papillomavirus in rabbits (PLoS One). This virus is one of the few known to directly cause cancer and has served as a model for the study of human papillomavirus (HPV).  Their research relied heavily on the extensive collections in the Biodiversity Institute; KU has by far the world’s largest collection of rabbits with the virus and Bob has added a number of new specimens to the collection.  One of the highlights of their work is successfully demonstrating that the virus can be identified genetically from rabbit specimens that were obtained 100 years ago.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Imagine shoveling soil to create a backyard garden plot and unearthing a rock embossed with the fossil remnant of a creature you’ve never seen before. It looks like something out of the ocean, but you live in the Midwest.

Is it a rare fossil from hundreds of millions of years ago or just the trash from a previous homeowner 50 years back?

Now, a free app developed at the University of Kansas with support from the National Science Foundation will enable anyone with an iPhone or iPad to discover and classify fossils with the eye of a scientist. The Digital Atlas of Ancient Life is available now at no cost for download from iTunes.

“We’re interested in making our science more accessible to the general public,” said Bruce Lieberman, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who is the primary investigator on the NSF grant. “We know people are captivated by paleontology and interested in fossils. The app links to pictures, maps and information about how long ago fossils occurred. We thought, ‘Hey, when people are out finding fossils, they’re not on their computer.’ They might be out walking, pick up a fossil and think, ‘Cool! What species is this? Where have others like this one been found?’”

Lieberman, who also serves as senior curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Biodiversity Institute, said the new app builds on a strong KU legacy of digitizing its collections so they can be of use to people around the world.

“It’s a way for anyone to find species in the field and learn something about them, be they farmers, amateur paleontologists, teachers of earth sciences or biologists,” Lieberman said. “Certainly some professional paleontologists could use it. We wanted to distill scientific information gathered over many years. We might have some scientist in Russia who wants to see fossils in my cabinets, but they don’t have airfare and couldn’t travel to Kansas. Or there might be a rancher in Dodge City with a fossil who can’t drive to Lawrence and see what’s in our collection. Now we can provide the data and allow them to dig outside in the natural environment in Kansas or anywhere, then instantly access pictures and explanations of what fossils they’ve found and what they’re related to.”

The researcher said his team had elementary, middle school and high school teachers in mind when they developed the new app, hoping to give instructors a practical tool for engaging students with the wonders of the natural world.

“For school groups a teacher might be able to say, ‘Hey we’re going on this field trip and we can find these specific fossils in this place,'” Lieberman said. “Outside a WiFi zone, they can show student pictures of fossils and where they occurred. Like with Google Maps, with this app you can zoom down to any geographic scale. A teacher can look at a map of specimens and say, ‘This one was found on Highway 59 near the junction with 458 — and we can go back again and find another one.’”

The Digital Atlas of Ancient Life app focuses on fossils with origins in the Pennsylvanian period, about 290 million years ago, with fossils common to Kansas and the Midwest; the Ordovician period, with fossils often found near Ohio; and the Neogene period with fossils usually located the Southeastern U.S.

Indeed, discovering fossils is easier than many people imagine, Lieberman said.

“The best thing to do is look around a road cut or a little quarry where rocks are exposed so you don’t have to do a lot of digging,” he said. “In Kansas, many of those yellow rocks that you see are packed with fossils — some are 100 percent fossils. Of course, don’t stop along a busy stretch of road or an interstate. But on all other roads, at least in Kansas, as long as you’re cautious, those layers of yellow rock expose fossils at road cuts. You can just bang a fossil out.”

Lieberman’s collaborators on the project include Alycia Stigall at Ohio and Jonathan Hendricks at San Jose State University, along with Jim Beach at KU. Rod Spears, former staffer at the Biodiversity Institute, and his son Zach programmed the app. The researchers have published a scholarly description of the project in the online peer-reviewed journal Palaeontologia Electronica.

But according to Lieberman, the real aim of the work was to provide everyday people a digital tool to connect them to fossils and inspire curiosity about our place in the universe.

“The most fascinating thing to me is to think about how the world was so different before humans were here, to be a thousand miles from the nearest ocean but pick up a shell of a clam that once lived by the side of the seashore,” he said. “It puts human life into perspective to think about so much history and time and change. There’s evidence that fossils have fascinated humans for tens of thousands of years. We’ve found prehistoric encampments with fossils people had brought from hundreds of miles away. We’re intrigued by this connection to place and history, and this app is looking at history at a large scale. It connects us to the world and makes us think, ‘Why are we here, and how did we get here?’”

- Brendan Lynch, KU News

Invertebrate Paleontology
Tuesday, September 15, 2015

beetle brood
Many scientists believe the very same dynamics that have shaped conflict between nations since the early 20th century also may govern how species evolve on Earth.

“The term ‘arms race’ originated with tense and competitive relationships that developed among European nations before World War I as they built up stockpiles of conventional weapons,” said Caroline Chaboo, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas and assistant curator with KU’s Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute. “The term has become widely used to describe competitive relationships.”

She said biologists have adopted the term for another kind of escalation — defenses, countertactics and one-upmanship among rivals in the natural world. 

“We know these evolutionary interactions can be fast, as in medicine where medical professionals and drug companies have a tense relationship with fast-evolving and drug-resistant pathogens, and they must design new and different cocktails to keep up with this enemy,” Chaboo said. “Other examples of tense relationships that drive evolution, counterevolutionary responses and one-upmanship include parasites and their hosts, seeds and seed-eating bugs, hunters and prey.”

According to Chaboo, such arms races influence the mechanics of evolution, as traits developed for defense over time result in entirely new species.

“One member of the relationship is attacking or resisting while the other is evolving to overcome defenses or avoid attack,” she said. “The competition can be at the level of genes, sexes or individuals. Ultimately, the one-upmanship drives diversity in a certain direction. Enemies make the population better. Thus, the more fit individuals — those with better escape responses, more effective offenses, better weapons to fight — avoid elimination and live on to reproduce and contribute their genes to subsequent populations.”

While the arms-race model is popular in evolutionary studies, it needs more validation from field research, Chaboo said.

Now, she and colleagues Ken Keefover-Ring of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Paula “Alex” Trillo of Gettysburg College have been awarded a two-year, $150,00 National Science Foundation EAGER grant to study questions from the arms-race model of defenses in leaf beetles. The fieldwork will take place at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama next summer.

Chaboo and her team will focus in part on the evolving defenses and tactics of tortoise beetles.

“In the larval stage, tortoise beetles exhibit a very different array of physical, behavioral and chemical traits,” she said. “Baby insects lack wings, and their first reaction to interference is to walk away. A large group of tortoise beetles has lateral projections which function in different ways — these break up the body outline, making the larva ‘disappear’ against its background, and they are armed with pointed hairs that may act as lances.”

Chaboo said many tortoise beetle species also show gregarious behaviors, living in groups. Working together, they diffuse plant toxic chemicals as each member ingests a small amount, and they also present a more intimidating herd to an “interloper.”

Also, the beetles expertly defend themselves with the ick factor.

“By far, the most peculiar defense is the recycling of their own feces and cast skins — exoskeletons of earlier larval stages — into a shield that is worn like an umbrella over the body,” she said. “This shield can ‘hide’ the larva, making it look like a damaged leaf to an aerial enemy, or form a nasty physical barrier to probing enemy mouthparts.” 

One arms-race strategy researchers will study in depth is the “escape and radiation” tactic, found in tortoise beetles, whereby new traits that better deter attack arise in a species. That species flourishes, free of enemy attack —to radiate or split into two or more species, giving rise to richer biodiversity.

“Individuals that survive day-to-day conflicts grow to adulthood, reproduce and leave more of their offspring with refined traits in successive generations,” Chaboo said. “Over evolutionary time, new traits and new trait combinations result in more diversity. We can compare lineages in our new evolutionary trees to determine how they diverged and radiated and identify which traits or suites of traits may be influencing radiations.”

Chaboo said the grant would present different challenges at each stage.

“The experimental work requires us raise up large populations of beetles in a greenhouse, and we have just one field season,” she said. “The sequence-phylogenies have bioinformatics issues. Integrating the phylogeny, behavioral and chemical datasets is a challenge, which is why we were invited to submit our proposal to the NSF EAGER program in the first place as a high-risk, high pay-off study.”

But with high risk comes high reward: A better understanding of arms-race theory derived from studying the beetles could help us better grasp our own evolution, Chaboo said.

“The work on beetles might demonstrate fundamental principles about how antagonistic and competitive relationships drive evolution and generate diversity,” she said. “This can explain partly how our world looks and even explain human evolution. What aspects of human morphology and behavior can be traced back to the impact of our ancestors trying to avoid being prey or becoming more adept hunters?”

Chaboo said the research team would develop an online educational resource in both English and Spanish about subsocial insects like beetles.  “Subsociality is far lesser known than true sociality. Our content with images and movies should fill a knowledge gap,” she said.

Along the way, the biologist and her colleagues will continue to mentor U.S. undergraduates alongside Panamanian students in international field research.

“We anticipate involving Panamanian schoolteachers as well through existing outreach programs at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute,” she said. 

Article by Brendan Lynch.
Photo above: Beetle mom with brood of larvae in French Guiana (Credit: Pascal Bonin) 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Note: Live animal display hours at the Oread have changed to be 8:30am-6 pm daily during the confernce, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The KU Biodiversity Institute will celebrate 100 years of amphibian and reptile research this month with an international herpetology conference, exhibitions and a variety of educational public events.

KU will host more than 425 scientists and students for the 58th annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles from July 30–Aug. 2. Single-day and full-conference registration and program information are available on the Biodiversity Institute’s SSAR 2015 meeting website.

Conference highlights include talks by world-famous biologists, including KU alumnus and National Academy of Sciences member David Hillis of the University of Texas at Austin, renowned snake expert Harry Greene of Cornell University, Madagascar explorer Miguel Vences of Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany, and amphibian conservation advocate Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley. There are academic sessions and symposia, a reception honoring distinguished senior herpetologists, a live auction of historical herpetological memorabilia, and tours of the Fitch Reservation at the KU Biological Field Station and herpetological collections of the Natural History Museum.

The conference also offers two events for the community to explore herpetology. One is a live animal exhibition at the Oread Hotel that includes the majority of Kansas’ non-venomous reptile and amphibian species. The exhibit is a Sternberg and Kansas Herpetological Society event presented in conjunction with the SSAR meeting. It will be open to the public daily in Gathering Room 1 during the conference.

Another event consists of two multimedia presentations featuring spectacular wildlife photography and music. The presentations will be offered 9:30-11 p.m. July 31 and 8-9:30 p.m. Aug. 2 at the Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union. Both presentations will feature the renowned herpetological imagery of David Dennis and Eric Juterbock. In one show, viewers will explore the “Amphibians of the Appalachians” through stunning photographs of the region’s spectacular frogs and salamanders. The second show, “Herpetologists Past and Present,” will take readers on a colorful and informative journey through the lives of herpetologists. Both shows are free and open to the public.

Beyond the conference, the Biodiversity Institute will encourage local residents to learn more about and celebrate the ecological role of amphibians and reptiles in Kansas. In that spirit, the Lawrence City Commission’s agenda for July 28 includes a proclamation declaring the week of July 27–Aug. 2 International Amphibian and Reptile Week.

This month the Society for the Study of Reptiles and Amphibians will publish “Herpetology at Kansas: A Centennial History,” by William Duellman, professor emeritus and a former curator of herpetology at KU.

Two new herpetology-focused exhibitions are now on view at the KU Natural History Museum. One is a new live animal display of lizards focused on anole lizards and their ecology. Another recently completed exhibition features student wildlife photography, field journals and maps describing a 2014 Kansas herpetology field course.

Scientists at KU have been studying amphibians and reptiles for more than 100 years. Alumnus Edward Taylor, who first published his research in 1915, helped begin what is now the fifth-largest amphibian and reptile collection in the world at KU. Today the collection includes 340,000 specimens representing 5,000 species from 156 countries, and it includes the largest collection of Kansas specimens in the state. KU herpetology curators and graduate students conduct collections-based research throughout the world, from across Southeast Asia to Africa to Latin America to Kansas.